Did His Orgasm Lead to Blindness? (podcast #93)

December 7th, 2016

Can a man’s orgasm cause him to go blind, at least temporarily? A medical report explores that very question, and we explore that medical report, in this week’s Improbable Research podcast.

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This week, Marc Abrahams discusses a published orgasm/blindess study, with dramatic readings from Yale/MIT/Harvard biomedical researcher Chris Cotsapas.

For more info about what we discuss this week, go explore:


The mysterious John Schedler or the shadowy Bruce Petschek perhaps did the sound engineering this week.

The Improbable Research podcast is all about research that makes people LAUGH, then THINK — real research, about anything and everything, from everywhere —research that may be good or bad, important or trivial, valuable or worthless. CBS distributes it, on the CBS Play.it web site, and on iTunes and Spotify).

NEXT POST: Is every measurement wrong?

A mathematician’s happy diatribe about what happens when mathematicians gather

December 6th, 2016

Doron Zeilberger cast a wary glance at the social gathering habits of his fellow mathematicians. He wrote a little, gleeful diatribe about it:

Opinion 104: The Shocking State of Contemporary “Mathematics”, and the Meta-Shocking Fact that Very Few People Are Shocked

I just came back from attending the 1052nd AMS (sectional) meeting at Penn State, last weekend, and realized that the Kingdom of Mathematics is dead. Instead we have a disjoint union ofnarrow specialties, and people who know everything about nothing, and nothing about anything (except their very narrow acre). Not only do they know nothing besides their narrow expertise, they don’t care!

The “meeting” was not really a meeting. It was many mini-meetings! 22 of them, running in parallel and in complete oblivion of each other. All that they shared was the coffee, tea, and donuts. That’s a little reassuring that an algebraic combinatorialist has at least one thing in common with an algebraic geometer, a q-serieser, and a Heat-kernel group theorist: they all drink coffee (or tea), and eat donuts! But that’s about it….

Each speaker had a special session associated with his narrow specialty, so naturally between 20 to 30 people for each talk were a captive audience. It would be really in bad taste to play hookey on the talk of the organizer of your special session….

You can’t really blame the audience for not showing up, since they were probably burnt out from countless previous invited talks where they didn’t understand a word, or from reading the very technical abstracts of the current talks. Most speakers have no clue how to give a general talk. They start out, very nicely, with ancient history, and motivation, for the first five minutes, but then they start racing into technical lingo that I doubt even the experts can fully follow.

Please! Expand these first five minutes into fifty minutes, tell us about the history, background, motivation, and you don’t have to even mention your own results.


BONUS (possibly related): Claire Kamp Dush’s “How Structural Equation Modeling is Ruining Family Research

NEXT POST: Is every measurement wrong?

Dirty Money (a comprehensive review)

December 5th, 2016

Before you reach into your pocket, bag, purse or wallet for some cash … you might pause for thought about the bacteria, yeasts, fungi, cysts and ova of intestinal parasites that could be lurking there.


All the above are commonly found on money worldwide – but which types of cash are the filthiest? In a comprehensive roundup of global research into money and its disease-causing potential, researchers Emmanouil Angelakis, Esam I Azhar, Fehmida Bibi, Muhammad Yasir, Ahmed K Al-Ghamdi, Ahmad M Ashshi, Adel G Elshemi and Didier Raoult have examined various physical forms of cash to determine which might be the most problematic.

They note that paper (i.e. cotton and linen based) notes are particularly bad (in Ghana, 100% of the currency notes tested were found to be contaminated with one or more bacterial species). Plastic (i.e. polymer) notes were considerably cleaner (polymer-based banknotes from Australia and New Zealand presented less than 10/cm2 bacteria). And coins – particularly those rich in copper, were also less contaminated than the paper (possibly due to the antibacterial properties of some metals).

The research team suggest that :

“The capacity of banknotes, coins and fomites* to serve as sources of pathogenic agents represents a major challenge in the 21st century. It is possible that the replacement of cotton-based banknotes by substrate material can play an important role in the reduction of bacterial concentration.”

REFERENCE: ‘Paper money and coins as potential vectors of transmissible disease’ in Future Microbiology (2014) 9(2), 249–261

*NOTE: A ‘fomite’ is any non-living entity that can transmit disease – like, say, a church font, or a doorknob

BONUS[1] ‘Microbiology: A Very Short Introduction’ by Professor Money

BONUS[2]: A look at another type of dirty money

NEXT POST: Can mathematicians understand each other?


Words can possibly have meanings

December 4th, 2016

We have been advised that this published study possibly says something:

Bill Denison photoshoot graduate brochure Widener Widener Widener

Contesting Essentialist Theories of Patriarchal Relations: Evolutionary Psychology and the Denial of History,” by Jesse Crane-Seeber and Betsy Crane [pictured here], The Journal of Men’s Studies, October 2010, vol. 18, no. 3, 218-237. The authors, at Widener University, write:

“This essay emerges from an ongoing mother-son dialogue about contemporary gender relations and their genesis in the history of patriarchy. In order to reframe patriarchy as a relational construct, rather than a simple group-based oppression, a performative notion of identities grounds the paper. It offers a critique of the body of literature that has developed under the broad heading of “evolutionary psychology,” insisting that gendered relations are not outcomes of genetic selection, divine mandate, or historical inevitability. An antidotal, millennia-spanning history of gender is offered as an epistemically and politically preferable explanation for patriarchal relations.”


(Thanks to Ilse Weil for bringing this to our attention.)

NEXT POST: Dirty, dirty money?

Robert Sapolsky: How a Chair Revealed the Type A Personality Profile

December 3rd, 2016

Robert Sapolsky explains how several apparently unrelated things — most especially a chair — led to new understanding about why certain kinds of people were suffering certain kinds of medical problems:


(Thanks to Joanne Manaster for bringing this to our attention.)

NEXT POST: Can words have meanings?